An aerial view of Nassau, Bahamas

Half a million people in Caribbean to be affected by tourism cuts — ILO

An aerial view of Nassau, Bahamas

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is warning that almost half a million Caribbean tourism workers face the prospect of decent work deficits in the form of job losses, reductions in working hours, and loss of incomes, while the worsening of working conditions and the move to informal employment appear as a concrete possibility.

The ILO said some half million people in the tourism industry will be affected by some type of cuts due to the coronavirus. (Photo: visitjamaica)

In a new publication titled “Tourism sector in the English- and Dutch-speaking Caribbean: An overview and the impact of COVID-19 on growth and employment,” the ILO describes as significant and far-reaching the reduction in the Caribbean tourism industry workforce due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The ILO notes that recovery from the adverse impact on sector jobs could be prolonged by a reversal in economic growth, and calls for a human-centered approach to resilient and sustainable solutions.

The report includes ILO guidance and data, as well as research conducted around the region to demonstrate the severity of the crisis on the sector’s labour market.

“The industry tends to benefit vulnerable categories of workers experiencing disadvantage in the labour market…and, more generally, is capable of absorbing workers with limited skill levels.”

– International Labour Organization

It notes that on average, the tourism industry directly contributes up to about 33 per cent of the region’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and over 52 per cent of export receipts. With approximately 30 million annual entries per year – the majority of which are cruise passengers, or from the USA – the industry provides direct employment to 413,000 workers in the Caribbean.

The ILO said that this figure represents, on average, 18.1 per cent of total employment and that if indirect and induced employment is considered, such figures could rise to 43.1 per cent.

“While Caribbean labour force data is not yet available to determine exactly how tourism workers have been affected by the crisis thus far, studies conducted by regional organisations and preliminary national administrative data, however, have begun to paint a picture of what is happening,” says Lars Johansen, the acting Director, ILO Decent Work Team and Office for the Caribbean.

An aerial view of the Port of Bridgetown, which is a facility managed by Barbados Port Inc (Photo: Cruise Mapper)

For example, reduced sample surveys indicate that 71 per cent of hotels had laid off staff by April 2020 to address the revenue shortfall caused by the crisis; some 66 per cent had also reduced the work-week or hours worked; and 53 per cent had cut salaries.

The ILO said that national-level data from Jamaica indicates that during the (relative) peak of the crisis, layoffs reached approximately 75 per cent of the total tourism workforce with the remaining 25 per cent working only two or three days a week at a reduced rate of compensation.

In Belize, 30 per cent of the total beneficiaries of stimulus relief belonged to the tourism sector. These affected workers include tour guides, wait staff, kitchen staff, those in guest/customer services, housekeeping, and maintenance and upkeep.

The ILO said the tourism industry has great multiplier effects fro related industries including construction and transport. (Photo: Sports Illustrated)

Workers who are directly employed by businesses that rely on cruise tourism are likely to be most affected because of the delayed reopening of that part of the sector.

The ILO said tourism is traditionally a labour-intensive industry with a higher than average multiplier effect on employment in other sectors, for example, agriculture, food processing, construction, transport, as reflected by indirect employment figures.

“The industry tends to benefit vulnerable categories of workers experiencing disadvantage in the labour market such as youth, women and migrants and, more generally, is capable of absorbing workers with limited skill levels,” the ILO notes, adding that a rise in informal employment among workers in the tourism sector who have been affected by the crisis is also a concern and may lead to exclusion from work-related social protection measures.

In terms of government responses across the Caribbean, the ILO notes that most countries have taken multi-pronged approaches such as direct transfers for individuals and loans, grants and tax relief for businesses.

The ILO said that there is also room for more sustainable recovery mechanisms such as positioning the tourism sector to lead the green and blue economic transition and job creation, which can be pursued through tripartite social dialogue between governments, employers’ organisations and workers’ organisations.